I didn't see this movie right away when it was released because the reviews and other people were telling me that it was a sad story. And, quite frankly, when I wanted to go to the movies or watch a DVD I wasn't in the mood to be too sad. So, tonight, after a great, enlightening day, I felt I had the emotional stamina to endure a really sad movie. I brought out the tissues and was ready.
But.....that's not what this was at all! I mean, there are emotional moments and the reality of people dealing with deep grief, but it's a story of new beginnings, of new hope, of laughing at ourselves and with others, and of finding joy in the present moment.
This is a true story based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee (played by Matt Damon), who really did buy a fully-functioning zoo with like, all the animals. I thought only municipalities and governments have zoos. I never heard of privately-owned zoos. So, this was enlightening.
In the movie, Benjamin's wife had died and in order to deal with the grief, for him and his children, he wanted to move away from all that reminded him of her. They found a perfect house with lots of acres of beautiful countryside. But, there was one hitch....it was a working zoo with staff and all. Wanting a new beginning, Benjamin gives it a go. This is where the wonderful drama of human interaction takes place--between him and the zookeeper and staff, him and his daughter, him and his son, him and the zoo inspector, him and the animals. With all the love we can have for animals, the human element in relationships cannot be replaced. We need people. We need love. We need community. This is played out in the scene of the "re-opening" day of the zoo. Kelly (Scarlett Johansson), the zookeeper, is with her niece, Lily, watching Benjamin and his children taking pictures and laughing. Lily, who really likes Benjamin's son, Dylan, says to Kelly, "If you had to choose between people and animals, who would you pick?" When Kelly doesn't respond because she is staring at Benjamin who she is developing a crush on, Lily says, "Me, too. People!"
There a many great lines in this film and a lot of humor. I was laughing out loud at everything Thomas Hayden Church, who played Benjamin's brother, Duncan, said! Brilliant script-writing. And, you can't but help find Benjamin's seven-year-old daughter, Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) just simply irresistibly endearing and charming. The emotional connection with the audience is established right from the beginning of the film because of Rosie. The film also shows how people at all different ages and stages of life cope with grief. The child often enables the adult to find life, joy and hope after a time of great suffering.
There are many values to be discussed in this film and is a great movie to share about. Definitely a family drama that can be viewed and reflected on together. The thought that recurs over and over in the film is words of Benjamin to his son, "Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." Sometimes we need to risk it in life and shoot for the moon. We never know what we would have missed if we don't try. Pope Pius XII said, "To live without risk is to risk not living." Maybe we don't have to go and buy a zoo, but we can step out toward another person to offer a hand and maybe our heart in friendship and love.